The fact that we have little control over the upscaling and accelerating development of Jackson Hole seems obvious. On other fronts the struggle to build more affordable housing for locals will be with us for decades to come. So, too, will be ongoing efforts to protect public lands from those who want more access for financial gain.
Now though, we have a place-specific opportunity to make a unique and significant contribution to how a locality like ours can address climate change.
Why here, why now? Because we live at the center of the most intact ecosystem in the Lower 48. Because as the wealthiest community in the United States at a county level, our carbon emissions are among the largest on a per capita basis. Because the long-term health of our local economy depends more on it than in other places tasked with addressing this crisis. And because the chance to take this on in a place we love is an opportunity that draws us together.
But there’s an elephant blocking the road. It falls in between voluntary actions like recycling and biking to work — actions that are helpful but small — and relying on national and global leaders to fix things for us.
What’s missing from this picture? It’s us, in particular our reluctance to recognize that our lifestyle choices release huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. There’s no difference between the carbon molecule that’s released into the skies from a coal mine in China and one that’s released by a jet ski on a lake or excavator constructing a large home.
Here are five examples of ways we can raise money locally to take on climate changes. These are taxes on carbon emissions, not wealth.
• Add a fee to registration costs for gas-powered recreational vehicles like powerboats, snowmobiles, dirt bikes, recreational aircraft, etc.
• Increase the impact fees and exaction costs for people who choose to add to or build a home that’s larger than a defined average. Offsets can be granted to those who choose to build smaller-than-average homes.
• Levy a landing fee on private jets to offset a portion of the carbon emissions released into the atmosphere which wouldn’t exist if the owners of those jets flew here on commercial airlines.
• Apply higher annual registration fees to motor vehicles that use more fuel per mile than a defined average.
• Work with Lower Valley Energy to create a sliding scale of costs for electricity and natural gas consumption focused around what an average-size house uses, with rebates to be offered to those who use less to encourage conservation.
Virtually nothing is needed in the way of additional data collection to adopt measures like these. What is needed is political willpower and leadership.
Yes, obstacles to legislating responsibility for the choices we freely make as consumers will be quickly encountered, but the source and makeup of those obstacles can’t be known until goals have been defined. In response to the “can’t be done” chorus it’s worth noting our taxing policies were never designed to cope with a crisis of this magnitude that we as individuals have all contributed to. And we’re running out of time.
But wait, what’s going to be done with the income from measures like these? Isn’t this actually an attack on those who’ve succeeded in our society? A simple answer: Disparities related to accessing the financial resources that are needed to cut greenhouse emissions make it impossible for most people to do anything at all to reduce their carbon footprints.
In regard to transportation, housing and all other basic areas of our lives, the ways in which locally sourced funding can be used to cut carbon emissions are numerous and varied. With the revenues collected, grants and matching funds can be paired with solar panels, e-bikes, improvements to public transportation, better insulation in older buildings and many other carbon emission reductions.
Self-taxation is the best way to address issues that businesses and individuals will never be able, willing or asked to take on themselves including problems like homelessness, funding police services, mental health and now, of course, climate change.
Phrased differently, the skies overhead are a commons upon which our lives depend. If one person makes an outsized withdrawal via the quantity of carbon emissions they put into the atmosphere, this natural resource upon which our lives depend is no longer available to other people and life forms that also live on this planet.
Elected officials can easily say that their agendas are already full, that climate change wasn’t a top-tier campaign topic when they ran for office.
But if they do lean in, people everywhere will take notice, and the media coverage of what we are attempting to do on the boundaries of this planet’s most famous national park will draw these ideas into view to open the conversation more widely, bring us together as a community and seed the ground for a better future that otherwise will be taken from our descendants, and from the 99.9% of the human population that has so much less than we do.